Sweden is taking active measures to ready itself ahead of presidential elections this fall against possible cyber-intrusion by foreign actors, mainly Russia.
At a recent conference in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, about seventy local lawmakers and election officials heard presentations on how to recognize and address vulnerabilities, and shore up risks like Russian attempts to raise doubts about the trustworthiness of elections.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven plans to reestablish a long-dormant body that would bolster psychological defenses as well as update a Cold War-era literature that instructs the citizenry on what to do in case of invasion, terrorism or other catastrophes. The pamphlets are titled, “If Crisis or War Comes.”
The country has also reinstated military conscription and boosted defense spending in reaction to the threat. Hundreds of election workers have been trained to spot and address foreign influence.
But perhaps the biggest step the Swedes have taken is the forming of a joint effort by four of the nation’s biggest news outlets to combat the threat of fake news. The news outlets have announced a joint platform aimed at fact checking that will battle misinformation from both domestic and foreign sources.
Sweden has become an important target for Russian efforts in recent years. It is not a member of NATO which Russia considers a military threat but movement towards NATO has shifted since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. A major political party in Sweden now says it will move to join the alliance if it comes to power, a move 47% of Swedes support according to recent polling.
Additionally, immigration has become a lightning rod in Swedish politics with a large debate over how open the country should leave its borders to foreigners, an issue Russia relishes exploiting of.
Swedes see the effort however, as one of national importance. “If you don’t react to this information and fake news, then you’re in a problematic situation in the long run because then you open up the arena for others,” Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said.
They also see it as a cause for national unity. “With the kind of culture we have in this country, we do things together if we believe it’s for a common good,” said Peter Wolodarski, editor in chief of Dagens Nyheter, one of the news outlets involved in the fact-checking effort.